At the Kishinev School for Deaf and Mute Children
My first autumn after college I worked
at the Kishinev School for the Deaf and Mute,
whose voices were not speech,
yet sounded like a language.
A foreign language, muffled and unknown
to the teachers. Its strange vowels,
born in their windpipes,
burned away in their throats.
I wrote the alphabet on the blackboard,
watched them move their lips as they
tried to articulate the sounds of Russian,
but no one could help them.
Yet there was a children’s god in the classroom
who guided them across quicksand
to where the Tower of Babel stood crumbling
and filled their mouths with the ABCs.